Unprotected and unpreserved, hundreds of archaeological sites in Kokarai area of Swat are weathering away or have been left at the mercy of smugglers.
The area remained a “busy abode” during the Buddhist era, according to archaeologists and there are hundreds of rock carvings and even more artefacts and coins left scattered about. But since the archaeology department has attempted to preserve only 21 sites so far – out of which five have been defaced by locals and the Taliban – locals are concerned that if necessary efforts are not made, these remnants of the Buddhist era will be lost forever.
“People often come here and spend days digging up artefacts and coins using complex equipment,” said Rahman Ali, a young resident of Kalakoh Dherai. “They say they work for the government.”
But these people are not from the government, they are smugglers who dig up the artefacts only to sell them to the highest bidder, said Afsar Ali, a local activist. “If not for the smugglers, the hundreds of archaeological sites are either weathering away or being defaced by locals,” he lamented.
He said a significant Buddhist rock-carving in Panr that was defaced by the Taliban is yet to be rehabilitated by the government. He blamed the government’s apathy towards the heritage of Swat for the lapse.
The ancient rock carvings have not been maintained, reflecting the indifference of concerned authorities. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ/ EXPRESS
Ali, however, demanded of the government to preserve a beautiful large Buddhist rock carving located in Bagh area of Kokarai. “Foreigners often visited the area before the militancy but the government has never attempted to preserve this historic piece of art,” he added.
Tariq Khan, owner of the land where the rock carving exists, said the site too has been prone to illegal excavation. “Sometime back, a small community from Mardan settled here and they would often dig up artefacts from the area,” Khan said. “I don’t know what they took but a number of broken Buddhist statues they excavated can still be seen in the protection walls of our field,” he added.
Swat Museum Curator Faizur Rehman, who is also the in-charge of protection of archaeological sites in Swat, told The Express Tribune that rock carvings in Kokarai are not protected sites. “Since the sites are located on privately-owned lands, the department can do nothing without the consent of the owners,” he said.
Moreover, due to shortage of caretakers, even the sites protected by the department cannot be guarded at night. “We only have enough guards to be deputed at the sites from morning till evening,” he lamented. Rehman said if the department is provided more funds, it can deploy watchmen at the sites around the clock and even protect additional sites.
“The importance of Swat is not only for of its breathtaking sceneries, but also because the valley has remained a cradle of various civilisations,” said Svastu Arts and Culture Association Chairman Usman Ulas Yar. The valley is full of ancient masterpieces of art and culture but sadly these works are being destroyed due to the neglect of the archaeology department, Yar said. “Until awareness about our cultural heritage is created, these historic sites and artifacts will remain at risk,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2012.